NEW YORK (AP) — A prosecutor will ask a judge not to give jail time to a New York City police officer convicted of accidentally firing a stray shot into a dark public housing stairwell that killed an unarmed man, a recommendation that the victim’s family said “diminishes” his death.
Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said Wednesday that Officer Peter Liang acted recklessly, but he didn’t intend to kill 28-year-old Akai Gurley.
He said justice will be served if Liang is sentenced to probation and six months of house arrest. Liang was fired from the police force last month.
“From the beginning, this tragic case has always been about justice and not about revenge,” Thompson said in a news release announcing his recommendation.
“Because his incarceration is not necessary to protect the public, and due to the unique circumstances of this case, a prison sentence is not warranted,” he said.
Gurley’s family said they were “outraged” by the recommendation and would implore state Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun to ignore it and sentence Liang to time in prison at a court proceeding next month.
“Peter Liang has not served a single day in jail, and he must be held accountable,” Gurley’s family said in a statement. “The district attorney’s inadequate recommendation diminishes what Peter Liang did. It diminishes Akai’s death.”
Liang, 28, was convicted of a manslaughter charge in February.
The rookie officer had been patrolling the public housing high-rise with his gun drawn in 2014 when he said a sudden sound startled him and he fired. The bullet ricocheted off a wall and hit Gurley on a lower floor.
At the trial, prosecutors argued Liang’s actions were reckless and he shouldn’t have had his gun out. They also said he did nothing to help Gurley as he lay dying on the floor. Liang’s attorney had argued that Gurley’s death was tragic, but was not a crime.
A second officer who was present at the shooting scene was also fired from the force over allegations that he didn’t do enough to help Gurley as he lay dying.
Thompson recommended that the judge sentence Liang to serve five years’ probation, six months of home confinement and 500 hours of community service. Though the charge carries no requirement for prison time, Liang faced up to 15 years in prison.
While the judge does not need to follow Thompson’s proposal at Liang’s sentencing proceeding next month, sentencing recommendations from prosecutors typically hold significant weight in most criminal cases.
Liang’s lawyer, Rae Downes Koshetz, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
The shooting happened in a year of debate nationwide about police killings of black men.
Gurley was black. Liang is Chinese-American.
The case has been watched closely by Black Lives Matter activists who have decried what they see as lenient treatment of officers, and by New York City’s large Chinese community, a part of which has defended Liang and argued that he was made a scapegoat.
More than 10,000 of Liang’s supporters rallied in New York and across the U.S. after the verdict, protesting his conviction.
Follow Michael Balsamo on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MikeBalsamo1.
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